[JURIST] A former member of the Black Panthers was released from prison on Friday after having spent a record 43 years in solitary confinement. Albert Woodfox [Amnesty International backgrounder] had been detained [JURIST report] in solitary confinement since 1972 after being charged and convicted of fatally stabbing a prison guard. Authorities first moved Woodfox to isolation in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and later to "closed-cell restriction" at state jails. In June a federal judge ordered [The Advocate report] that Woodfox be unconditionally released, which included strong language barring any further trials on the original charges of murdering prison guard Brent Miller. He was able to be released after striking a deal in which he plead "no contest" to two lesser charges.
The legality of solitary confinement has been an ongoing debate in the US, with many calling for comprehensive prison reform [JURIST podcast]. Last month President Barack Obama announced a ban [JURIST report] on the federal prison system's use of solitary confinement for juveniles. In September the Association of State Correctional Administrators, in partnership with the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School released a report [text, PDF] estimating that between 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners were in what correctional officials call "restrictive housing" in 2014. Also in September California agreed [JURIST report] to restrict use of solitary confinement based on a class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights. In March the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that Virginia could continue to automatically house death row inmates in solitary confinement.